DROP ZONE (1994)


Directed By: John Badham
Written By: Peter Barsocchini & John Bishop
Story By: Tony Griffin, Guy Manos & Peter Barsocchini
Cinematography By: Roy H. Wagner
Editor: Frank Morriss 

Cast: Wesley Snipes, Yancy Butler, Gary Busey, Michael Jeter, Grace Zabriskie, Corin Nemec, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Kyle Secor, Mickey Jones, Clark Johnson, Melanie Mayron

A team of skydiving crooks led by DEA-agent-turned-bad specialize in landing on police roofs and breaking in so their evil computer nerd can steal undercover agents’ files and sell them to drug lords. Federal Marshal Snipes lost a brother to this crew and learns skydiving with the help of tough-but-lovable instructor Butler so he can track them down. DIE HARD meets PASSENGER 57 meets CLIFFHANGER.

I remember when this film was being made and it was an open film. Where hey were considering anyone to play the lead. Who was an established star. As originally the film seemed like it was aiming more to have a female action hero. Though that changed and seemed like more a filler role. As the film supposedly was offered and passed on by Geena Davis, Bridget Fonda, Gene Hackman, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ellen Barkin and Andy Garcia. Before finally Wesley snipes signed on to star. Which seemed more a matter of matching his fee. Steve Seagal was all set to star but decided to do UNDER SEIGE 2 for $15 Million dollars.

One can see why many passed as the film is pretty generic as it is a revenge tale and an undercover tale where the hard ass cop ends up becoming close with the community he has infiltrated and actually earns their respect. While also developing feelings for them too. Though there are some questionable scenes like after a life threatening prank Wesley snipes actually assaults a woman the only one who knows he is a cop and is more his contact and entrance into the skydiving community.

The film is pretty basic. Wesley snipes plays it pretty much straight and no nonsense while at times actually adding some flavor to his character to be likeable and not such a stick in the mid and even though the film is more about skydiving there are plenty of hand to hand combat scenes for Mr. snipes to show off his skills and still be bone crushing.

For all the sky diving action and scenes the film never manages to be as awe inspiring with the visuals as say a film like POINT BREAK. As in the sense you can easily tell when the actors are more on a stage with high pressure air on their faces and using stunt men to do the real sky diving. Which is fine if you can make it look seamless, but here at time it is obvious. –The film also is never subtle as the villains always make themselves obvious and obnoxious plus even though Gary Busey’s plays his role straight more than usual. His character still comes off as unhinged and deranged.

I was excited to see Malcolm Jamal Warner in the film as this was one of his first big screen roles after THE COSBY SHOW and many sitcom appearances and attempts to star in some. Even if here he is only on screen for a few minutes at least he is around for the best scene of the film.

The film is unfortunately generic. It feels paint by numbers when it comes to the story as it is predictable and while silly. It manages to be pretty basic. Though would never call it a good movie. It is an ok times aster mainly saved by the presence of Wesley Snipes as he always seems fresh and driven in the role. More happy to be there, before some of his later roles where he comes off more as jaded and bored. It even tries to paint the team he infiltrates as love able oddball rag tag types. Who are seeking more respect and popularity in the business. So of course it makes them instantly likeable no matter how they don’t necessarily open him with open arms.

The character of Jess Crossman was originally written as a man. After the character was made a woman and Yancy Butler was cast in the role, the filmmakers wanted to remove the part where Nessip hits her after she drops him out of the plane. However, Butler insisted that the “hitting” scene be left in, and it was.

When it comes to Wesley Snipes he always has the talent and the ability to be a star. He comes across as dangerous yet charismatic and has a more natural reaction to situations that are funny, but make his characters feel that much more realistic. He just fell and never seemed to fully make a comeback. As he is usually impressive in the right role on the big screen. It has just been so far few and In between that he never had a chance to gain momentum again. Though with this film it seems almost like a return to his roots in the movie PASSENGER 57 even though that film is a much better use of his talents and a better film over all. This one is more polished and has more of a shine to it. Though both majorly take place in the air and involve many action scenes of hand to hand combat.

Ended up in a production race with TERMINAL VELOCITY to reach theaters first; when the other film was ready for a September release, Paramount took some extra filming time to have this one ready for a prime holiday season release instead.

Some of the polish of this film is because it is directed by noted director John Badham who needed up becoming a journeyman director starting off making films such as SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER that were geared much more towards drama and ended up making more crowd pleasing basic action films. So in a sense he always made film that were crowd pleaders to a degree. It is just towards the end of his career he seemed to have less passion as a director and the films feel more like they are victims of coming off of a product line and this unfortunately is one of them. It has it’s moments, but while they help save the film. Hey never rescue it fully.

Grade: C-

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